For the first time, a Palestinian athlete has qualified for the Olympic games. Despite difficult odds, 28-year-old judoka Maher Abu Rmeileh has realized his dream and will represent the Palestinian territory in London.
Maher Abu Rmeileh has made history, becoming the first Palestinian to qualify for the Olympics. He recently earned his spot in judo at an event in Japan. Abu Rmeileh, who is competing in the 73kg (160 pounds) category, will carry the flag for his country at the opening ceremony on July 27 in London.
"I feel great," he said. "I am very happy to be the first Palestinian to qualify for the Olympics. I have achieved something great - I got the 20 points needed."
Palestinians have competed in previous Olympics, but only through invitation by the International Olympic Committee's program for Olympic committees whose athletes did not meet the qualifying minimum. Four other Palestinian athletes will compete in London under this rule.
"I always thought reaching the Olympics was an impossible dream," he said. "But now, after qualifying, 'impossible' means nothing."
Runs in the family
The 28-year-old judoka sees making it to London as a major achievement. He has been training for more than 20 years, learning from his father, who also competed in the sport.
"My parents and grandparents love sport and the Abu Rmeileh family is well known for this in Palestinian circles," he said. "There are many athletes among them, including my uncles and my brothers."
When not assisting his family at their local scarf shop, Abu Rmeileh spends his time training the Al Quds Sports Club in annexed East Jerusalem. The facilities there are outdated and the club doubles as a wedding hall at night.
"I open the shop in the morning and at around five or six in the evening I go to train," he said. "My father takes the strain off me when I have to train."
'In the name of Palestine'
Just a 10 minute drive away is West Jerusalem's state of the art judo facility. It is one of Israel's most successful Olympic Sports, earning the country three medals.
Despite the facility's proximity to Abu Rmeileh, he has never trained there nor competed against its athletes.
"The Israeli union tried many times to arrange joint events but we have refused," said Abu Rmeileh's coach, Iyad Halabi. "I cannot ask a Palestinian boy to compete against an Israeli while his father is in jail, or his house has been demolished and he can't go through checkpoints."
"Only when we have a real and just peace, no settlements, no prisoners in Israeli jails and we have a free country, we will be ready to have joint activities." he said
Ten Palestinians have competed at the Olympics since their first appearance in 1996. Runners Bahaa al-Farra and Worood Maslaha and swimmers Ahmed Jabreel and Sabin Hazboon will join Abu Rmeileh on the team in London.
"I will try my best with all the strength I have to go and win something," said Abu Rmeileh. "I am not going for the honour but to win in the name of Palestine."
dr/mz (Reuters, AFP)